Apples or Oranges? Solve it with Janusian Thinking!
By Remo Nuzzolese
Janus was the first God in ancient Rome, worshipped hundreds of years before Christianity, he was probably the most important of all deities that populated the roman Pantheon. Janus, or Ianus in latin, was The Creator, God of beginnings and transitions, he presided doors, bridges, new enterprises and he is still giving his name to the first month of the year, January. He embodied elements of change and movement and because these are bidirectional, the God was symbolized with a two-faced head with the two faces looking at opposite directions, able to oversee past and future, left and right, in and out, two different states at the same time.
From here, Janusian Thinking, which is the ability to integrate conflicting elements with a unifying thought giving birth to a new idea that is coherent with the original elements and wider than them.
Many great thinkers in history have proven to – consciously or not – think and create in a Janusian way in the fields of science, politics and the arts: Einstein’s relativity theory, Louis Pasteur’s vaccine, Escher’s paradoxical images and the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile are just a few well known examples: a falling object can be perceived as steady, a poison can be its own remedy, a stream of water that falls as it ascends a tower, and so on…
Even easier to recognize it in some popular commercials: “Tough on Dirt - Gentle on Fabrics (Whirlpool Washers)”, “Bet You Can’t Say No to Yes (Dannon Yogurt)” and “Devilishly Good Taste, 90 Saintly Calories (Baskin Robbins Ice Cream).
Religions and spirituality are full of examples of opposing coexisting forces: God and Evil, Nirvana and Samsara and then we have this beautiful symbol, the Tao that integrates Ying and Yang, opposite energies functioning simultaneously as a unified larger principle.
So, how do we relate Janusian thinking to creativity and problem solving? We already know that creativity is also about connecting elements that are distant, putting things together in a new way to develop an original product. Now, imagine how much stronger and radical the answer to a problem would be if it could solve the original problem and its opposite. Janusian thinking is about increasing the complexity of a situation and use it to find more opportunities, is about thinking holistically in terms of AND rather than EITHER-OR without creating a separation between elements that are really not apart and refusing false trade-off between factors that can be integrated in one solution.
Next time you are facing a difficult problem that presents conflicting elements, imagine which are the commonalities, in which wider frame can you include both elements? It’s like being able to choose apples, oranges and the basket too.
These are some of the authors that I researched to write this post; you can easily Google them to dive deep in their interesting literature: